Let’s Talk About How Revolutionary ‘I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man’ Is

It’s 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning. The sun is shining and I’ve had my coffee. Prince has been dead for two days now and I’m sitting here listening to “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” and crying.

This has been my favorite Prince song for a long time. I even dreamt about the song once.

Why that one? I’m not sure, it just makes me happy. A lot of my all-time favorites make me happy. The Replacements’ “I Will Dare?” Yep. Sugar’s “If I Can’t Change Your Mind?” Yep. The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun.” Uh-huh.

Even though The Current is all-Prince all weekend, this morning I selfishly wanted to listen to the songs that were more personal to me.

Since the news came out that Prince died, in the quiet times when I’m not actively engaged in something my brain has chosen a random Prince song to sing. It sings it while I make dinner, when I wake up in the morning or in the middle of the night. Thursday it was “Purple Rain.” Friday it was “Pop Life.” This morning it was “When You Were Mine.”

So when I turned on the music I listened to those song with nary a tear, then my heart went for “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.” And then the crying. Not just watery eyes, full on, shirt-wetting crying.

Why?

Because how fucking revolutionary is this song? Like conceptually, I always knew what the song was about, but in this reflective time of mourning it struck me about what an amazing song this is.

It’s a song about a lonely, pregnant woman looking for something on a lonely Friday night: a dance, a one-night stand, a new man to love. And in a strange twist that rarely happens in rock & roll the male narrator of the song politely and respectfully tells the woman the truth. He’s not that guy. He could be a one-night stand, but that’s not gonna work for either of them.

And I said, baby don’t waste your time. I know what’s on your mind.

This is a song about turning down an offer of casual sex since it would not be good for the woman because he’s not what she’s looking for.

Prince never demeans the subject of his song. He doesn’t make fun of her or shame her in anyway. In fact, he empathizes with her plight.

It hurt me so bad when she told me with tears in her eyes. . .

It’s a song about a man relating to a woman on a human level and really listening to her.

Fuck.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen often in music for women, especially coming from a man.

Rock & Roll is littered with songs where, as a woman, you have to do a kind of mental yoga around the lyrics. “Under My Thumb” anyone? I always like what Ellen Willis said about how if you could change the gender of the song’s narrator without losing any meaning, she gave the song a pass. So, technically “Under My Thumb” would get a pass. Thank Ellen, because I love that song.

But for most of rock & roll women are often seen as maneaters or sex objects or heartbreakers. It’s not often where they’re treated as humans.

I keep thinking of that garbage Iggy Pop song “Gardenia.” It is catchy as hell, but so much crap. That “All I want to do is tell Gardenia what to do tonight” refrain makes my brain scream in revolt. And the line about “America’s greatest living poet was ogling you all night.” Ugh. Barf.

Maybe on a subconscious level I chose “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” because of the thoughtful human interaction, but I doubt it. I like songs with handclaps.

Since Prince’s death I’ve wanted to write about the sexuality of his music and how it informed my own growing up. I’m not there yet. My brain is still working through it, but I think there’s something here, in this song, about how Prince viewed women that made the sexiness of his music feel empowering and not demeaning.

Until then, I’m gonna bask in how amazing it is that Prince wrote a great, fun song about not having sex.

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3 Comments

  1. M-----l 23.Apr.16 at 3:28 pm

    My favorite Prince-related memory is the time you and Hotrod fought for three days in the comments to a Prince post I wrote on Vox back in 2008. The only thing you two could agree on was your admiration for “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”. Hotrod put it at #2 on his list and you called it “the best Prince song of all time.”

    Reply
    1. Jodi 23.Apr.16 at 4:07 pm

      Awww, this made me smile. I find it oddly reassuring when I am consistent with my own opinions. Thank you for this.

      Reply
  2. EOB 09.Feb.17 at 12:12 am

    Neko Case said that this was her favorite Prince song, too.

    I agree with both of you, maybe because part of my college schtick was to be only friends with women. I now understand I was terrified of both sexual inadequacy and/or emotional initimacy, but at the time, I thought there was a nobility in a Morrissey-esque celibate solitude.

    Back to the song: it may be the catchiest, danciest melody of the decade.

    Reply

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